First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned that even action behind closed doors might be too risky during long-term social distancing as she told Scottish sports fans not to expect mass gatherings to resume any time soon.
Sturgeon admitted some form of social distancing could be required until a Covid-19 vaccine is ready, meaning the prospect of thousands of fans gathering at sporting events in Scotland could be ruled out for an estimated 18 months.
But she also expressed major reservations about sporting events being televised given the risk of fans congregating to watch.
The SNP leader’s comments will only heighten the financial concerns of many sporting clubs and authorities.
Scottish Professional Football League board member Les Gray admitted on Sunday that all but one of the directors did not expect football to return before September or October, while the Scottish Rugby Union previously admitted “developing uncertainty” over whether three internationals would take place at BT Murrayfield in November.
When asked about the prospect of crowds or closed-door events before a vaccine, Sturgeon said at the Scottish government’s daily briefing: “I’m not yet in a position to give you dates on when things will start again and in what order things start to go back to normal.
“But I would absolutely say that people should not be under the expectation that large-scale mass gatherings will be starting any time soon.
“Because we must make sure we do everything we can to suppress this virus and, as we start to lift restrictions, make sure we’ve got the capability in place through ‘test, trace, isolate’ to replace those restrictions but also continue to have the understanding that some form of social-distancing is going to be required perhaps up to the point where a vaccine is available.
“That’s me being as frank and as honest as possible.
“We want to get a semblance of normality back into people’s lives for all sorts of reasons as quickly as possible. But we cannot do that in a way that risks a resurgence of this virus.
“I know that is not good news for people – which is the majority of our population – who feel and have sport as a really important part of their lives and our culture and how we use our leisure time.
“But it would be wrong for me to give false expectation right now about an early resumption of football matches or rugby matches or large-scale sporting events like that.
“In terms of playing behind closed doors, clearly there are issues there in terms of does that completely take away the risk of big events?
“If a match is being played behind closed doors but it’s still on television, the danger then is people will still congregate together in groups to watch that.
“So these things all have to be very carefully considered and they will be very carefully considered and we will share as much of that consideration with you.”
The Scottish football authorities are making attempts to plan and prepare for a resumption of action by setting up five committees.
Each will be chaired by a member of the Joint Response Group, which was formed by the SPFL and Scottish Football Association in the face of the coronavirus crisis and previously suspended all football activity including training sessions until June 10 at the earliest.
The group revealed that “experts and experienced individuals from clubs and other relevant organisations” were being invited to discuss medical advice as it relates to football; supporter welfare; club operations including training of players; broadcasting; and regulation including competition rules, player registrations and legislation.
SFA president Rod Petrie said: “It will be the responsibility of the Joint Response Group to take the recommendations from each sub-group and weave these together to create the optimal plan for Scottish football to restart its business while supporting the NHS, keeping supporters safe, and looking after the welfare of players and staff at clubs as well as at the Scottish FA and SPFL.
“We want to make sure that we continue to support the nationwide effort to overcome Covid-19 but we also need to start planning for the restart of the game, at the right time and with the health and safety of paramount importance.”
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